How many times have you been watching TV and seen the latest ads for weight loss supplements? Sure the people in the ad are tan, with perfect white smiles and washboard abs. As they beam out at you from the television screen the announcer, who is usually a claimed doctor, informs you that just by taking this pill you will lose weight, no exercise required. However, if you merely peer at the faint white text located at the bottom of the screen you can clearly see that the fit models are merely actors as well as the doctors. In actuality these individuals have probably never even touched the product they are promoting. This new trend of ads supposedly supported by “scientists” is part of a new wave called denialism. This term coined by Michael Specter, describes the tendency of individuals in present day society to deny facts and statistics presented by the scientific community. For example, he sites the denial of H1N1 vaccine use despite the fact that nearly 40% of the adults in America have the virus. He believes that this denialism spawns from promises made by scientists that can’t be answered immediately. In all, skepticism spawns denialism that is only fed by politics and an individual’s hesitancy to believe scientific claims. (1)
In an attempt to combat the growing strength of scientific denialism, it can be seen that within the past few years when looking back at some of the most controversial movies as well as some of the biggest blockbuster movies, the plots seem to deal with some form of science that is currently under fire. Take for example the movie “The day After Tomorrow.” Although the movie has big stars to help its cause such as Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhall, the plot speaks to the public in a manner that makes global warming much more than statistics in a newspaper. Although it is after all nothing more than a fictional story, the scenes of a tsunami drowning the inhabitants of New York City or tornados demolishing the infamous Hollywood sign can sometimes speak louder than the temperature statistics in science journals. As a scientist however, it is frustrating to me to hear individuals in Ashland deny the presence of global warming. Just this past week in convo I heard someone commenting on how global warming can’t exist if we are getting pounded with all of this snow. What they fail to realize is yes, you will still get snow in the winter with global warming however, if they would simply study the melting of the glacial ice, or the diminishing of polar bear populations due to ice melt they could make a more educated judgment.
Beyond the flashy fictional Hollywood stories on science documentaries have been released in the past few years, which also aim to target denialism. Take for example the recent releases of “Super Size Me” and “An Inconvenient Truth”. Both films take the approach of targeting the general public in order to gain attention and science recognition. However, in order to truly combat denialism on hot topics such as evolution, global warming, and overall health, I believe scientists need to use a variety of mediums to make the information both understandable but also interesting to the public. Spewing facts and figures in an attempt to inspire action or knowledge won’t help unless it is presented in a way that shows how they personally will be affected. For example, take some of the conservative individuals who deny global warming. If you show them a picture of a polar bear on a small piece of glacial ice that more than likely is going to perish due to lack of terrain and food, they will more than likely turn the other direction. However, if you were to show them their favorite tropical resort getting destroyed by a hurricane strengthened by the warmer waters induced by global warming I guarantee they’d be more prone to listen.